Vision Zero = Stockholm Syndrome

According to Wikipedia,

Vision Zero is a multi-national road traffic safety project that aims to achieve a highway system with no fatalities or serious injuries involving road traffic. It started in Sweden and was approved by their parliament in October 1997.

This aim, if one takes it seriously, is, of course, an effort to deny and defy the laws of physics, which dictate that massive, independently steered boxes careening past one another on open pathways must always pose severe collisional dangers to both their occupants and other human beings.

One might also note the effort in this stuff to reduce the topic of harm to collisions, which thus become a macabre distraction from the issue of automobiles’ huge and inherent problems of pollution, energy waste, and distributional elitism.

In any event, Vision Zero was and is an effort by Sweden to perpetuate the Volvo Group‘s car business. The fact that it was passed by the Swedish parliament is merely a sad statement about the weakness of social democracy (aka socialism) in that nation-state.

Vision Zero is a cynical “social marketing” ploy by corporate capital.

If you doubt this, consider the main corporate sponsor of the especially laughable American version of this Orwellian gesture:

gm sponsor logo

Meanwhile, here is the current spiel on the Volvo website:

volvo web image

Notice the word “in” there in the penultimate sentence. Notwithstanding the question of how Volvo proposes it could ever be satisfied in its phony goal, the question remains: What about people killed or seriously injured BY your products?

Crickets, of course, on that one…

Cars and the Crappy Society

Heather McGhee ponders an important question:

Over a two-decade career in the white-collar think tank world, I’ve continually wondered: Why can’t we have nice things?

Heather McGhee, The New York Times, February 13, 2021

McGhee explains what she means by this:

image of billboard showing american way ideology
Notice the automobile…

By “we,” I mean America at-large. As for “nice things,” I don’t picture self-driving cars, hovercraft backpacks or laundry that does itself. Instead, I mean the basic aspects of a high-functioning society: well-funded schools, reliable infrastructure, wages that keep workers out of poverty, or a comprehensive public health system equipped to handle pandemics — things that equally developed but less wealthy nations seem to have.

McGhee reviews the ways in which white racial ideology prevents this movement toward reason, comfort, and social democracy.

Here at DbC, we would endorse this but add that cars-first transportation is also a major reason we in the USA remain stuck on our continent of kooky, harmful, maldistributed geegaws. With kindest apologies to Adam Smith, it seems that, upon completion, building human societies to maximize the sale of goods and services is not quite the same thing as building human societies for the maximum benefit of all.

When you prioritize the money-seekers’ values, the end results are not, in fact, all that similar to those that maximize the general welfare. Commodities and human thriving are not, it turns out, the same thing. However much the world might have disguised this point back in the 1770s, in the 2020s, it is getting pretty hard to miss.

“That Doesn’t Just Happen”

The quasi-official explanation for the existence of cars-first transportation in the United States is an extension of American Exceptionalism: “Americans are having a love affair with the automobile,” it is said, is all there is to know about the making and meaning of mobility in this, the best of all possible societies.

Now, one important sub-axiom of love affair doctrine is the presumption that capitalists, being mere order-takers, have played no independent part in the extraordinary, continuing paving of the continent. “What would you folks like,” our heroic Henry Fords are said to always ask. “Oh, cars…hmm. Cars, you say? Oh, yes,…cars, cars, of course! — excuse us, we hadn’t thought of that. Tell us more, so we can give you what you desire!”

This would surely still be the main explanation an organization such as the Ford Motor Company would give, if any public servant were ever so brazen as to inquire into the insane trend toward escalating manufacture and sale of pickup trucks.

Why is this suicidal thing happening, oh dearest Ford? “Well, it’s what the people demand!,” you can hear them say.

Consider, then, this image, which shows an advertisement Ford Motor is now running in the trade magazine Automotive Age:

Ford ad

You could spend hours decoding the few dozen words in this one. But, still, consider the plain meaning of the first two sentences:

F-Series trucks have been America’s best-selling truck for 43 years running. That doesn’t just happen.

No, indeed. It does not.

Gaps, Indeed

The United Nations today issued a report on “the emissions gap,” meaning the difference between “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” to meet the probably too-weak 2015 Paris Agreement goals on world greenhouse gas emissions. The gap is big, says the U.N., and the situation “bleak.”

There is, however, a rather glaring gap within the U.N.’s own analysis and reportage: its remarkable softness-of-head when it comes to the technology that is now the leading source of GHG emissions in the society that remains Earth’s clear per-capita leader in GHG emissions.

U.N. Emissions Gap Report 2019

That technology is, of course, the automobile.

Without counting either a) heavy trucks and buses or b) all the secondary activity and material that exists or is swollen because of the automobile’s importance in the United States and elsewhere, cars, according this report itself, “contributed around 14 per cent or 7.5 GtCO2e to global GHG emissions,” as of 2018.

What is to be done, according to the Gap report’s authors, about this major GHG source?

For the United States, on the topic of transportation, it is just this:

Strengthen vehicle and fuel economy standards to be in line with zero emissions for new cars in 2030

Zero-emission automobiles, of course, do not and cannot ever exist.

All automobiles require fuel, and even solar panels, wind turbines, hydro-electric dams, and nuclear power plants produce GHG emissions in their construction and maintenance. The emissions, in these minor examples as well as in the coal and natural gas plants that are the major sources of “EV” power, merely occur at locations other than a tailpipe. But occur they most certainly still do, despite automakers’ labels suggesting otherwise. Shame on the United Nations for missing and obscuring this crucial fact.

Meanwhile, there’s also not a single word in this report about reversing cars’ centrality in transportation and urban design. Nor is there a word about the foolhardiness of relying on automobiles as a primary way of accomplishing everyday locomotion.

There is some major juju behind the continuing taboo against straight talk about cars. If we survive to tell the tale, this sponsored unknowing will likely be judged as one of human history’s greatest ideological blindnesses. First, though, it may be the death of us.

Automobiles and the Drake Equation

Earth as dot in space

As Carl Sagan once explained, the odds for the existence, out there in the cosmos, of intelligent life-forms we might someday meet or talk to can be guesstimated using the so-called Drake Equation.

Ironically, at least in Sagan’s view, the main determinant of whether there are probably millions of existing advanced extraterrestrial civilizations or few-to-none “comes down to economics and politics and what, on Earth, we call human nature.”

On those planets that yielded intelligent life and complex civilizations, did the smart beings we might someday encounter manage to avoid destroying themselves, in the heady and naive early days of their sciences, with their own clever inventions?

Such self-destruction might be, Sagan observed, “the overwhelmingly preponderant fate of galactic civilizations.” And our own collective life-course could certainly not yet be taken as evidence against this thesis:

“And it is hardly out of the question that we might destroy ourselves tomorrow.”

Carl Sagan, Cosmos, pp. 318-319

TCT holds that one of the cardinal technologies that seems quite likely to embody the kind of deadly species adolescence that worried Sagan is the supposed freedom machine we call the automobile.

Barring the invention of a truly sustainable technology for turning sunlight into electricity or liquid fuels on the needed scale, the idea that every individual commuter ought to maintain for their own personal use a complex and fragile two-ton machine has certainly always been a rather wild gamble with the universal laws of physics.

And yet, led along by our capitalists, we have — especially in this, the world’s dominant society — watched this wager be built into the very stuff of our social, economic, and geographical affairs. If we are ever to retract this living bet, it will cost us very dearly, as it will require a thorough-going reconstruction of our spaces and places, as well as our social relationships.

As of 2019, it is not looking hopeful for such a sober move. The topic of cars’ centrality in American life still goes, as the would-be radicals dwell on symptoms and the car ads roll merrily on, all but unmentioned.

Barra-barians at the Gate

So Trump is getting ready to relax federal rules on automotive fuel efficiency, as the second great SUV-selling bonanza continues apace, with the crucial help of the loss-leading “EV” haloware schtick. In the automotive industry and press, this astounding stupidity is known as “modernizing CAFE standards.”

Here is GM CEO Mary Barra’s totally shameless statement on the topic, per Automotive Age:

“A single, national standard would allow us to focus our resources on innovations that benefit our customers and society as we pursue our vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion, instead of diffusing resources to meet different rules within the United States,” Barra told GM’s workforce.

Benefit society? Zero crashes? Zero emissions? Here’s major proof that you don’t need cojones to have world-class chutzpah.

For the Kids

Here’s one your children and grandchildren will appreciate. It’s what the Democratic Party’s Congresscritter has to say about relaxing the rules for making and selling the machine that’s destroying the material basis for future civilization.

“Our bill makes simple changes so our manufacturers, suppliers, and workers can continue to make the best products in the world.”

This machine, of course, just happens to be the lifeblood of corporate capitalism and the unaccountable, decrepit overclass it sustains. Hence, such über-Orwellian stuff. “The best products in the world!”

Capitalism Eats the Planet

earthapple This is how they do it:

Driven by the rise of the millennial generation and a global growth boom, the auto industry is in the midst of a new golden age, said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co. COO, in a speech at the Automotive News World Congress. The industry should take advantage of that to lure new talent, he said. Fields called it “the most exciting time for the auto industry in the last 25 years.”

Growth of small cars and luxury sales are pushing industry growth from different ends.

“There are 2.1 billion people reaching driving age in countries where the number of middle-income consumers is growing. These countries have huge potential for growth of first time buyers,” he said.

“Today the luxury segment accounts for 8 percent of the total global market,” he said. “Globally, the luxury market is forecast to add approximately 2.3 million vehicles in the next five years — with lots of opportunity in markets like China, the U.S., Russia, Turkey and Brazil.”

An exciting golden age, indeed! Is this how Thelma and Louise felt in their last 30 seconds?

[Source: Automotive News, January 14, 2014]